The Bubble of John Law

The Chickasaws were the dreaded enemy of France; it was they who hurried the Natchez to that awful massacre; it was they whose cedar bark canoes, shooting boldly into the Mississippi, interrupted the connections between Kaskaskia and New Orleans, and delayed successful permanent settlements in the Arkansas. It was they who weakened the French empire in Louisiana. They colleagued with the English, and attempted to extirpate the French dominion in the valley.

Such was Louisiana more than half a century after the first attempt at colonization by La Salle. Its population may have been 5,000 whites and half that number of blacks. Louis XIV had fostered it by giving it over to the control of Law and his company of the Mississippi, aided by boundless but transient credit. Priests and friars dispersed through tribes from Biloxi to the Dakotahs, and propitiated the favor of the Indians. But still the valley of the Mississippi remained a wilderness. All its patrons – though among them it counted kings and high ministers of state – had not accomplished for it in half a century a tithe of that prosperity which, within the same period, sprung naturally from the benevolence of William Penn to the peaceful settlers on the Delaware.

It required the feebleness of the grand monarque to discover John Law, the father of inflated cheap money and national financial ruin. In September, 1717, John Law’s Company of the West was granted the commerce and control of Louisiana. He arrived at New Orleans with 800 immigrants in August of that year. Instead of coming up the Mississippi, they landed at Dauphine Island to make their way across by land. The reign of John Law’s company over Louisiana was a romance or a riot of folly and extravagance. He was to people and create a great empire on cheap money and a monopoly of the slave trade. For fourteen years the Company of the West controlled Louisiana. The bubble burst, the dreams and illusions of ease and wealth passed away, and but wretched remnants of colonies existed, in the extremes of want and suffering. But, after all, a permanent settlement of the great valley had been made. A small portion of these were located at Arkansas Post, up the Arkansas River and on Red River, and like the most of the others of Law’s followers, they made a virtue of necessity and remained because they could not get away.

John Law was an Englishman, a humbug, but a magnificent one, so marked and conspicuous in the world’s history that his career should have taught the statesmen of all nations the simple lesson that debt is not wealth, and that every attempt to create wealth wholly by legislation is sure to be followed by general bankruptcy and ruin.

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